It never ceases to amaze me that people who live in areas prone to certain disasters, like hurricane Irene, seem to be caught by surprise every year when *gasp* they are actually in the path of such a disaster. They scramble to the store in the hopes of grabbing up those critical pieces of plywood, precious bottles of water, or other supplies. Isn't it common sense to just have these things on hand rather than risk waiting until the last minute and get there five minutes after they sold the last of what you need?
As it turned out, the hurricane missed us, but we still had some serious flooding, enough that when an (idiot) car drove by, water would lap up into the house through the front door, a good couple feet above street level. The menfolk in the family I was staying with contemplated taking a canoe to look for an open take-out place to get some food the day after (they ordered pizza in during the storm. Good thing there was someplace still open!), but decided that since the water was only about knee high, it would be a better idea just to wade through it. Amazingly, they did manage to find food (super yummy Cuban food! Yay!), the water receded in a matter of days and everyone lived happily ever after. At least, I assume they did--I eventually lost contact with this family, but I do know for a fact that they at least lived long enough that they suffered no permanent injury or illness from the supreme stupidity of that summer. Seems to me that just assuming everything will work out and that there will be food, water, medical help, etc, available when facing a disaster is just asking for serious trouble sooner or later though.
I tend to opt to be a little more (by little more, I'd like to think completely) prepared for just about anything. Here in Michigan, we don't have to worry about hurricanes, but tornadoes and snow storms are both a real threat at different times of year. Regardless of the nature of the potential emergency, basic human needs are the same: shelter, water, food, basic medical care.
Regardless of the situation developing, you need to be someplace that will withstand whatever disaster that is coming. All the preps in the world aren't going to matter if you don't survive the initial storm. Ironically, living in a trailer in a trailer park, this is my greatest weakness, at least when it comes to tornadoes. Fortunately, with the early warning technology that exists, I should have enough time to get my family somewhere safer if it looks likely a tornado will hit where I'm at.
Just like my tornado example, if you are in the path of a hurricane and you are advised to evacuate, don't be stupid, don't try to be "manly" or tough and stick it out. Leave! Find someone safe to stay if at all possible. If it isn't possible or if it isn't bad enough in your area that you need to leave, you'll want to secure your location. This means both making sure the windows are boarded up, all loose items on the property are secured or brought inside, and doing anything else you can to make sure things aren't damaged during the storm, and being prepared to defend yourself from potential looters or attacks after the event. Defense doesn't have to be just weaponry either--hiding so it looks like the place is deserted with all valuables (both supply and expensive stuff) is already gone so it isn't worth looting. Some people like dogs for defense, but I see them as more of a liability since it is just another mouth to feed, something to look after, and it isn't that hard for a bad guy to just shoot the dog--plus I'm highly allergic.
People will die of dehydration long before starvation, so water should be your first priority after shelter, which is probably a good chunk of why water seems to be the first thing to disappear off of store shelves when a storm approaches. So how much water should you have on hand? A good rule of thumb is a gallon of water per person per day. It is better to err on the side of too much though, since water is the most crucial thing in a survival situation. Even if you have a healthy supply of bottled water in the event of disaster, it is still a good idea to fill bathtubs, sinks, and any other available container with tap water for sanitation purposes. You really can't know ahead of time how long you'll be on your own and water is one thing you absolutely can not afford to run out of.
It is always good to have food on hand in the house, but especially so if you may be trapped in your house for at least a few days. I really like the LDS food storage guidelines of having a minimum of 1-year's worth of food on hand, but I'm the first to admit that I'm not there just yet. I'm hoping by the end of the growing season, I'll have enough food to last until next year's food is ready to start harvesting.
For a survival type situation like after a hurricane or ice storm, your goal is much more modest. You want to make sure you have at least 3 to 7 days worth of food that doesn't require refrigeration to store or electricity to prepare. Watching the news reports and footage of people getting ready for hurricane Irene, I don't know whether to laugh, feel sorry for, or be scared for the people that are clearing the store shelves of milk. What do they think they are going to do with that? When you lose power, you absolutely don't want to open your refrigerator or freezer (and stuff them full, maybe even stick some dry ice in there ahead of time if possible) so they will retain the cold better and you'll be less likely to lose the contents to spoilage. For your emergency foods, things that don't require any heating are best. Foods you like are also key, since you don't want to end up with kids or anyone else turning their noses up at the only food available and having their health suffer for it. Protein bars, dried fruit, nuts, bread, peanut butter, canned fruit, jerky (if you like such things), canned beans (if in a flavor you can stand, like baked beans), and dry cereal are all good choices. After the initial disaster, you may have the option to cook on a grill or even open fire (outside, don't be stupid and try to make one indoors), which would open up your options more (s'mores anyone?) but you still don't want to need refrigeration, although I suppose I could see someone buying a bunch of steaks or other meats to keep in a cooler for a post-hurricane barbeque to celebrate that they survived! From a purely practical standpoint, it wouldn't be ideal though--if nothing else, you'd be setting yourself up for increased likelihood of attack by looters who want that steak (see section on shelter) and any other great stuff they might then assume you have.
Pretty straightforward: if you depend on medication to live, that needs to be a huge priority to make sure you have enough to last until you can get more at the very minimum. It is also imperative that you have basic first aid supplies on hand. It would really suck for a minor wound to get seriously infected before help arrives so you end up losing a limb or dying, just because you didn't have something to sanitize the wound and bandages to cover it to keep it clean. It is also useful to know what to do if someone breaks a bone, has a heart attack, or a severe allergic reaction. For non-super-life-threatening medical issues in which seconds count, you may want to have a guide on first aid available with your kit to refer to.
It may seem like a lot if you are like the family I mentioned in my story at the beginning of this post, but it really isn't that big of deal to get all this stuff together. Really, it just takes a little common sense and thinking ahead. Really, isn't your life and the lives of your loved ones worth it?